How to keep your remote culture flourishing: the eternal quest.
Here at Trello, I am proud to say we do this with great success, borne out of a focus on continued growth. There are so many great things that come with a distributed company culture, and the accompanying growing pains can be addressed with some excellent solutions.
There is Trello HQ. There is Trello Remote. We work to make sure those cultures are the same, simply put - Trello.
We’ve learned that when your company is growing, and a lot of that growth is distributed, you have no guarantee that people actually know each other. Sure, there is shared virtual space, like Slack, but for many of your employees, it is a reasonable expectation that they are primarily interacting with only their team members on a typical day.
And that was our dilemma. What guarantee did we have that a designer on the Product team would get to cross paths with one of our Account Executives?
We encountered this during our last remote week. People kept coming to me and saying “Wow! You know, I’ve never really gotten to talk to Fran. He’s so cool!” With both employees being on different teams and in different locations, they had never had much of a reason to talk at length.
And while, yay, human connection, here was an opportunity to do more. Let’s bring people together. We have the technology.
Which is why we started doing an activity we like to call "Mr. Rogers." Two employees are randomly paired each week, and for 15 minutes they are tasked with hopping on a video call and getting to know one another. More often than not, I try to make sure the pairing is a remote employee with an HQ employee on a different team. This is a really easy way for the company to come closer together, despite being in multiple timezones.
"Mr. Rogers eases the pain of having such cool coworkers live so far away from me."
- Michelle Earhart, Support Specialist, working out of Trello HQ in NYC
I made a private Trello board to plan things out:
Having each employee assigned to a card (color coded by team for an easy zoomed-out view) gave me complete control.
Someone is out on vacation? Just pull their card.
By bringing it into Trello, it’s also very easy to search card names so I don’t repeat pairings.
After the pairings are complete, I make matching cards:
Then it’s just a matter of making a copy of the list and sending it to the Mr. Rogers board!
Now the fun begins.
Here’s how it works:
Mr. Rogers is optional (and that’s important), but we found that many people would *want* to meet with a coworker and then the week’s distractions would get in the way. Group consensus was that we’d all appreciate a gentle reminder, so each card (to which the pair has been added) has a due date for the last day of the week.
"It helps me build personal relationships with people who I need to work with to do my job but who are on other teams. And that's invaluable when I need to ask folks to do something or soothe over a difficult discussion. Plus, it gives us a space to talk about something other than work."
- Emily Chapman, Support Specialist, working remotely from Atlanta, GA
The cards exist as an easy place to plan and then summarize.
And this is my favorite thing about bringing Mr. Rogers into Trello. We all get to be a part of things. It’s become this wonderful database of fun facts and has really contributed to our sense of community. Having stuff visible to everyone keeps the conversation going.
I seriously can’t with the concept of “glamping.” I’m in awe.
We’ve been doing this for 20+ weeks now. Here are a just a few tidbits:
- Bobby, a designer, would rather fight 1 torch-wielding-mob-sized lobster than 700 lobster-sized torch-wielding mobs.
- Two of our employees WROTE AND RECORDED A SONG during the half hour they spent hanging out.
- People play board games, virtually and in person, go on walks, give virtual tours of our respective work spaces, etc.
"Mr. Rogers has given me the humanity behind the computer screens. The work we all do together is great, but it's way too easy in any job, especially one working remote, to view people as input/output devices. Taking 30 minutes to hear about their lives makes them human again. There are huge sets of amazing people at Trello that I would never get a chance to know."
- Ryan Sorensen, Server Developer, working remotely from Los Angeles, California
At any company, HQ culture should be accessible, remote employees should never feel in the dark about what happens in the main office. But this goes both ways! It’s so cool to see where our coworkers make great things in Montana, or California, or Hawaii.
One of the things I’ve learned being a part of such a flourishing remote culture, is that just as we bring HQ to them, they bring the awesome parts of remote work to us.
Even though we thought Mr. Rogers was a great idea, we weren’t expecting it to be so beloved. People were so excited about the idea, and it’s been a huge success.
Bring it into your distributed company, and watch the fun begin!